Ukraine Latest: EU Sanctions Declared, Interior Ministry Voted to Barracks by Parliament

– As I reported earlier, yesterday’s truce ended in massacre, with as many as 100 civilians shot and killed by police in the chaos that ended the fragile truce. Western parts of the country remain in “open rebellion”, while much of the east remains strongly pro-Russia and President Viktor Yanukovych.

– Unbelievably, demonstrators were seen, “leading policemen with hands held high around the sprawling protest camp in central Kiev — Ukraine’s Interior ministry says 67 police were captured in all. They are being held in Kiev’s occupied city hall.”

– The European Union has imposed sanctions on those, “responsible for violence and excessive force” that include,”travel bans and asset freezes imposed on those deemed responsible for the fatal escalation of violence in Ukraine.”

– Respective Foreign Ministers Laurent Fabius of France, Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany, and Radoslaw Sikorski of Poland are holding talks with both sides in Kiev to discuss a “roadmap” to peace.

– The White House has made Vice President Joe Biden the pointman with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. The two had been in contacts for weeks already, and Biden had come out in support of the Ukrainian dissidents in early December, so he’s been on this beat for a while.

– Interesting developments on the political front in Parliament, according to The Telegraph:

The Ukrainian parliament is seeking to reign in the executive branch. Ukrainian MPs have voted to an effective end to the “anti-terrorist operation” declared by the Interior Ministry and security services in Ukraine. In a late night parliamentary session to which few ruling party members attended, 236 members of the 442-seat chamber voted to return interior ministry troops to barracks, ban them from using firearms, and implement a ceasefire in Kiev. The chamber was almost half empty – only 238 MPs showed up – the majority is significant because the opposition has failed to secure majorities throughout the three-month political crisis.

– There are widespread reports that the police are using snipers, and foreign journalists have reported seeing multiple bodies lying in the street with single gun-shot wounds to the head.

– Ukrainian Skier Bogdana Matsotska has withdrawn from Russia’s Olympic games, telling reporters, “I don’t want to participate when in my country people die”. Matsotska, 24, will miss the slalom, her best event. She hoped to head home and join protesters in Kiev’s independence square, but flights are not available. Even though she is stuck in Sochi, “I am in Maidan but just with my soul” the skier said, but she didn’t pull any punches, believing that Yanukovych, “has to be jailed, and for a long time,” Matsotska said. “For all the lives that he took, for all the lives of innocent people that came peacefully to stand for their opinion”. Powerful, but dangerous, things to say, mired in the heart of Putin’s Russia.


Ukraine Erupts With Violence, Protests

For at least three months, there has been a simmering showdown in the Ukraine (which is not weak!) between activists seeking to chart a new, more European, course for their country, and those loyal to the current regime and its leader, Viktor Yanukovych.

In the last two days, those simmering protests have erupted into wide scale violence across the country. Last night, as I watched the evening news here in America, I saw the country’s capital city, Kiev, alight with massive rows of fire, Molotov cocktails flying through the air in a hellish scene, all at around 4:30 in the morning Kiev time.

At last count, as a result of the violence of the last two days, at least 25 people have been killed and over 250 wounded. As of today, the countries embattled president named a new head of the Armed Forces to try and quell the “terrorist” uprising.

Of course, with protest movements as diverse and disparate as this one, listing grievances can be difficult, but in general, this situation boils down to the direction the country is headed. All of those protesters in the street would like to see Ukraine become more a part of the West and the European Union, and President Yanukovych, largely considered a puppet of Russian President Vladamir Putin, would seemingly like to remain, as they have been since the fall of the USSR, a satellite state of Russia.

The situation finally came to a head when Yanukovych turned down a $50 billion dollar trade pact with the European Union which Putin had been publicly critical of, and instead re-upped their $15 billion trade pact with Russia.

According to the European Commission, this is a partial list of things the Ukraine turned down in deciding to reject the European Union trade deal:

– “An eventual free trade agreement between Ukraine and the EU would save the country $670 million annually because of reduced EU import taxes. Ukraine would lose around $538 million in import duties coming from the EU.”

– “Ukraine’s agriculture sector would have benefited from cuts in duties: $45 million for agriculture products and $72 million for processed agriculture products. In addition, new market opportunities in the EU and higher production standards would help investment, stimulate the modernization of agriculture and improve labor conditions. Agriculture makes up 10 percent of Ukraine’s gross domestic product, a much higher share than in the major Western economies (in the U.S. it’s 2 percent).”

– “The industrial sector would have also benefited from the reduction of taxes on machinery and appliances by at least $103 million. Ukraine would also be able to cut duties on vehicles by $161 million.”

But what’s a billion dollars here or there when you get to have a good buddy like Putin?